We had our pick of seats on the bus, so we decided to sit on the raised back seat. We were joined by a trio from Brazil, and Flar enjoyed brushing off his Portuguese. I could even converse a little -- especially since they were all fluent in English. :)
Cartagena is a walled city that was founded in 1533 by Don Pedro de Heredia. The walls were constructed in reaction to sieges; the most famous was led by Sir Francis Drake in 1586. The Spaniards used Cartagena to store gold and emeralds from the interior of Colombia, which was the target of the sieges. Drake accepted a 10 million peso ransom for not burning the city. King Felipe II ordered the wall to be built, and it was finished in 1686. The first stop on our tour was the fortress of San Felipe.
We then drove and drove and drove to reach the Mud Volcano. It is a natural formation, formed just like the cone of a lava volcano. But, instead of molten rock, the mound is formed from dried mound that bloops up over time. The approaching road has tiny versions of the mud volcano forming along one side. The volcano has been domesticated by the addition of two staircases, and a wood structure capping the crater, to provide ladders and footing for getting in and out of the mud. The steps leading up the volcano where carved out of the natural slope, and look to have been helped out with some concrete here and there. The railings look rickety, but they are quite sturdy, and a comfort, since the volcano is about 50 feet high. The higher steps are quite steep, but Flar and I both made it up them.
Flar only came up the mound to be my cameraman. This was my favorite excursion from all the ones offered through NCL, and he was a true hero to accompany me. He didn't get into the mud because of his catheter. Even aside from the mud itself, he's been cautioned against swimming in fresh water lakes -- which is where the rinsing is done.
The mud itself was wonderful. It was a dull grey color, but the texture was rich and smooth. The mud is thick enough that it is very difficult to sink down into it. Another lady and I were trying to get down past our shoulders -- I tried doing reverse pull-ups using one of the railings, but I wasn't strong enough to force myself that far down. Most people were turned all the way onto their backs, but I was working on keeping my ears out of the mud. I managed to develop a kind of mud-paddle, similar to pedaling an upright bicycle. I found I could even steer my way around in the mud.
Going back down the mound was a greater adventure for me than climbing up. Even though I'd sloughed off most of the excess mud, I was very aware of the risk of slipping. I relied on the railings, especially the vertical supports, almost like walking canes. Once I got down to the ground level, the soil was very very hot. We had turned in our shoes and towels at the foot of the mound, and rather than return them there, they had carried them down to the fresh water lake for us. I couldn't take the heat, and could barely take the pebbles, when I wimped out and limped over to stand on a porch in the shade. A very generous man who worked there loaned me his sandals to walk down to the lake.
At the lake, there were ladies with bowls who helped us down to the water and then rinsed us. They had us sit down, and then used the bowls to pour rinsing water over us while we wiped the mud away. My lady even peeled down my bathing suit top to get to the mud that was under it, and to rinse out the suit. A man on the bus said his lady had him hand her his suit to rinse while he rinsed himself. Once we were all rinsed off, our shoes and towels were in the shade, and a lady next to the shoes would rinse off our feet before we donned our shoes.
After all was said and done, we ha a nice bus ride back into town, where we stopped at a souvenir shopping area. I found some bags decorated with the cutwork style that Flar had found in Panama, so I was very pleased to buy myself a new wallet/purse while I picked out souvenirs for the boys and Mom. Flar stayed on the bus for a short siesta while I shopped.
We arrived back at the ship around 2:30 or so. Flar let me shower first to get the missed mud out of my hair, and then he showered to get the mud spatter off of his legs. When I had my 20-20-20 at the spa the other day, I'd bought a bottle of oil and a tube of gel that work together to do wonder for achy muscles, and I treated myself to a foot rub.
Now I'm all refreshed for our evening onboard.